Neuromancer, by William Gibson
What is there still to be said about Neuromancer?
William Gibson’s startling novel is revered in certain circles as a genre-defining piece of modern literature, representing a startling glance into an all-too-possible future of ever-greater technology paralleled by ever-diminishing humanity among a growing global underclass.
Since it was first published 25 years ago, Gibson’s debut has helped to spawn an entire genre, earned him legions of fans, and seen the real-world arrival of many of the forebears of his futuristic literary imaginings – and yet it has also escaped the ravenous claws of the Hollywood machine.
(Note: let’s just not mention the abomination that was a pre-matrix Keanu Reeves in “Johnny Mnemonic”, ok? No, seriously – it had Ice T starring in it opposite a dolphin, and don’t forget Dolph Lundgren…)
At its core, the plot of Neuromancer is basic heist movie fare – a small group of shadowy individuals of uncertain scruples brought together for a single mission by an even more shadowy master, who is in turn under the control of forces unknown with inscrutable motives – and yet it rises above that pulp (and dare I say it, derivative) premise to present a compelling vision of a future firmly rooted in the twisted, complex, and fertile ground of the human condition.
Through a handful of central characters Gibson explores love, loss, desire, obsession, the nature of consciousness, and the paradoxical strength and attendant fragility of the human mind without ever seeming preachy or overly metaphysical.
Where Gibson really excelled, and what continues to earn him plaudits and healthy book sales a quarter of a century down the line, was in framing this ultimately very human story within a world at once both eminently believable and yet at the time quite far fetched – a near-future dystopia of cheap lives, corporate hegemony and astounding technology inhabited by flawed, cynical loners that you somehow still came to care for and empathise with.
In the process of defining a dazzling technological future with a dark, seamy underbelly, Gibson also crafted a compelling narrative and did more for the sales of black jeans and mirror shades during the late 80s than any other author in living memory.
Having been drawn to re-read it recently after a gap of 15 or 16 years since first thumbing through those (now yellowed) pages, there are certain tell-tale signs of its age (predominantly the result of the relentless march of technology to the steady drum beat of Moore’s Law) but I don’t think I could ever turn my back on a book which manages to set out its stall and bring you hurtling into its world with almost gothic cadence in a mere 15 words:
The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.
Brilliant. Just brilliant.
Reviewed by Andy Hawkes